Parents and community members have called for a Houston school board trustee to resign after he savagely critiqued Black teachers during a racist rant at a school board meeting. Scott Henry of the Cypress Independent School District (CFISD) blamed students’ poor grades and low graduation rates on Black teachers and said diversity efforts were frivolous in comments that left lawmakers, activists, and parents aghast.
In a school board meeting on Jan. 10, Onika Mayers, the director of Millennium Learning Concepts (MLC), went through a presentation about diversity and equitable practices and learning opportunities within the district’s middle and high schools. MLC is an organization that provides equity assessments. In the data provided, Mayers noted academic achievement disparities among different racial and ethnic groups.
During the 2019-20 school year, 72 percent of white students reached their academic grade level in English language arts and reading, while fewer than half of Black, Latino, and economically-disadvantaged students met the mark. Only a quarter of special needs students reached their achievement goals, according to Mayers’ presentation. There were also more Black and Latino students suspended than white students.
“Black and African American students in CFISD are suspended at elevated rates, and that takes away learning time, [which] limits their academic potential,” Mayers said. “Black students are less than 20 percent of the CFISD population, but make up nearly 40 percent of students receiving in-school and out-of-school suspensions. MLC noted that this pattern does not appear to impact students of other ethnicities and harms African American students.”
“Similar to achievement patterns, this discipline pattern is a district-wide concern consistent across CFISD and has profound consequences on student learning and academic outcomes,” Mayers continued.
She added that the district’s faculty and leadership did not mirror the racial and ethnic demographics of the student body.
“Hispanic or Latino students and Asian students do not see teachers and leaders across CFISD who look like them and share their cultural backgrounds,” Mayers said. She cited a study that found students are likely to be more academically successful and suspended less if they have teachers who they can racially or ethnically identify with.
After Mayers’ presentation, Henry, who is white, immediately dissected the data she provided with negative remarks and unfounded theories.
“I’m a big data guy, so I know data. Data can be skewed any way you want it to,” Henry said.
He accused the information in the presentation of being “cherry picked” and claimed that the number of Black students who were suspended wasn’t really a big deal.
“That number [of Black kids suspended] looks big and scary,” he said. “But that’s not really a big number if you’re looking at the total population of the school district.”
While stumbling over words, mispronouncing “in-school suspension” and “intuition,” he called Mayers’ presentation “a pile of rubbish,” and called diversity efforts financially frivolous. Ironically, he said that the report did not focus on how kids of all races could achieve the same level of education. Rather than focusing on why certain students had poorer performances, Henry bashed the idea of equity discussions. He said he felt someone needed to be fired for inviting a guest speaker to talk about white privilege during a summer program.
He said none of the recommendations provided in Mayers’ presentation should be adopted.
Then, before he opened up the floor for others to speak, he blamed Black students’ low graduation rates and performances on the higher number of Black teachers.
“Do you know what the statewide percent is for Black teachers? Ten percent,” Henry said. “Houston [Independent School District], which I'll use to shine an example, you know what their average percentage of Black teachers is? Thirty-six percent. I looked that up. You know what their dropout rate is? Four percent. I don't want to be 4 percent… I want to be the premium place where people go to be.”
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo led a chorus of condemnation of Henry’s comments. “As a product of Cy-Fair ISD, I’m appalled by Board Member Scott Henry’s insinuation that more Black teachers lead to more dropouts,” she tweeted. “Divisiveness and racism are what’s hurting our students. Not diversity. Resign.”
“This racist Texas #CyFair school board member just said that more Black teachers leads to worse student outcomes,” a Texas mom wrote on Twitter. “He must resign. And be called out. And maybe sued.”
“I was deeply saddened and offended to hear the comments made by @CyFairISD School District Board Member Scott Henry. His comments are unacceptable, and I recommend that he resign immediately,” wrote Houston Mayor Sylvester Terry.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas also slammed Henry. “The denial of structural racism abets further racism,” they tweeted. “@CyFairISD School Board Trustee Scott Henry’s suggestion that the presence of more Black teachers correlates to a higher dropout rate in any district is false and racist. Our teachers and students deserve better.”
Henry released a statement Wednesday, implying that the public had taken his rant out of context.
“I was defending our school district against attacks from an out-of-state political organization,” he wrote. “...This political organization claimed that one metric—the percent of black teachers in our schools—determined the quality of education our students receive. I was simply refuting that by pointing out the fact that there is no one metric that determines the education quality… Diversity is just one of those metrics, it’s not the only metric.”
Mayers’ presentation suggested that the Cypress school district, which enrolls more than 117,000 students in northwest Houston, needed to offer more support for students of color. She said that rather than focusing on diversity on a larger scale, schools needed to make it more personable and hands-on.